As we noted earlier, Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch Resort offers a wide range of ski and snowboard camps for teens and tweens as part of the mountain’s Snow Sports University program. From regular group lessons, to full day camps and age-appropriate mountain explorations, Smugglers’ tries hard to help each teen and tween find their own niche. During our recent visit, the Princess participated in the all-day Notch Squad snowboard camp for kids ages 11-15. #1 Son experimented (briefly) with the Mountain Explorer program for 16 and 17 year olds before opting to explore the mountain solo. Their experiences remind us why it is so important to know your teens and tweens and make an effort to match their personalities to the available programs.
Making sure that your teen or tween enjoys their lessons at Smugglers’ starts by making an accurate assessment of their skills and interests. The Snow Sport University registration page provides good descriptions of what separates a level 1 new skier or boarder from a level 5 intermediate who can link turns on groomed terrain but isn’t ready for ungroomed surfaces up to level 9 black diamond experts who want to tackle the toughest glades. Registering ahead of time for the appropriate level is important. However, rest assured that the staff will make adjustments if your teen or tween needs to move up or down a level, particularly if they are making progress over multiple days.
Tweens and Younger Teens Thrive in the Notch Squad
Beyond regular group lessons, The Notch Squad is the primary ski and snowboard camp offering for tweens and younger teens ages 11-15. Of course, within that age range you are likely to find kids with all levels of abilities from true beginners to hot shots whose parents can’t keep up with them. This is particularly true for snowboarders whose parents may be skiers and can’t provide much help when it comes to learning how to snowboard. Since most parents probably don’t feel comfortable letting kids this age take off on their own, the Notch Squad is a great option for parents who can’t ski or snowboard with their kids and don’t want the kids on the slopes alone.
We were impressed how much effort the Smugglers’ staff put into matching up Notch Squad kids in terms of abilities and age. The Princess found herself with two other middle schoolers and a high school freshman who were all at the same advanced beginner level 4. This group spent the day on the mostly green trails of Morse Mountain, the smallest of the three Smugglers’ peaks. Levels 5 and up spend their day on the larger Madonna and Sterling Mountains, which offer extensive intermediate and black trail options. The Flaik GPS system used to track all the kids in the Smuggler’s group programs reported her group covered 8.5 miles and hit speeds as high as 26 miles an hour during their 6 hours together, including lunch. Although she was the only girl in the group the Princess enjoyed the camaraderie and said she would welcome a chance to spend another day in the camp.
Older Teen is A Bit More Skeptical
By comparison, the Mountain Explorer program for our level 5/6 #1 Son was a bit of a let down. As might be expected, fewer older teens signed up for what was billed as a chance to explore the mountain with teens ages 16 and 17. The group that resulted seemed to be kids who were looking for a less challenging and slower moving experience than #1 Son. He gave it a go but decided pretty quickly that it was better for skiers who felt like they needed an escort. Instead, he chose to explore on his own and managed to hit every intermediate trail and selected black diamonds in his two days on the slopes.
As has been reported elsewhere, the chairlifts are a bit slow, and the three lifts serving the larger Madonna and Sterling Mountains are limited to double chairs. However, even during a vacation week the lines were short. He said he had great conversations with a whole range of interesting people.
The Bottom Line – Teens Will Be Teens
The lesson learned is that even in a resort that knocks itself out trying to please fickle teens and tweens, your kid’s experience will depend on their attitude as much as on the programming being offered. You will get the most bang for your buck, and the least whines from the teens, if you match the program choices to your teen’s personality and age. For some teens, a private lesson might be the best way to get started – the Princess took one the afternoon that we arrived to get a sense of the mountain before her Notch Squad camp the next day. (If you go this route we highly recommend Rachel Rose).
By comparison, #1 Son had no real interest in lessons or groups but gave the Mountain Explorers a try at our request. We thought the staff was friendly and encouraging and don’t fault them that he decided to bail, as we had let him know that if it wasn’t for him he could take off after giving it a fair shake. At his age, we were comfortable letting him fly solo – as long as he kept checking in. The fact that Smugglers’ has excellent top to bottom cell phone service helped a lot in that department! He did say that the teens who stayed with the group seemed happy with the lessons and support they were getting.
Bottom Line: When on vacation with teens and tweens, Smugglers’ Notch offers many more options that you will find at most winter resorts so one way or another your teens are likely to find a choice that is right for them. You just have to make sure they have a say in what that choice will be.
Disclosure: Smugglers’ Notch provided lodging, activity passes, lift tickets, group lessons and #1 Son’s visit to Arbortrek during our stay. We paid for meals and private lessons on our own. Accepting this review opportunity in no way required that we write a positive review. Travel with Teens and Tweens retains full editorial control over this article and all opinions are ours.